Erwin, Henry Eugene, 1921-2002

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Henry Eugene Erwin Sr. (May 8, 1921 – January 16, 2002) was a United States Army Air Forces airman and a recipient of the U.S. military's highest decoration—the Medal of Honor—for his actions in World War II. For 37 years, Erwin served as a benefits counselor at the veterans' hospital in Birmingham, Alabama. In 1951, his story was included in the movie The Wild Blue Yonder in which Erwin was portrayed by Dave Sharpe. In 1997, the Air Force created the Henry E. Erwin Outstanding Enlisted Aircrew Member of the Year Award. It is presented annually to an airman, noncommissioned officer and senior noncommissioned officer in the flight engineering, loadmaster, air surveillance and related career fields. It is only the second Air Force award named for an enlisted person. Erwin died at his home on January 16, 2002, and was buried at Elmwood Cemetery in Birmingham, Alabama.

Erwin's Medal of Honor citation reads: Staff Sergeant Henry Eugene Erwin, 52nd Bombardment Squadron, 29th Bombardment Group, was the radio operator of a B-29 airplane leading a group formation to attack Koriyama, Japan, on 12 April 1945. He was charged with the additional duty of dropping phosphorus smoke bombs to aid in assembling the group when the launching point was reached. Upon entering the assembly area, aircraft fire and enemy fighter opposition was encountered. Among the phosphorus bombs launched by Sergeant Erwin, one proved faulty, exploding in the launching chute, and shot back into the interior of the aircraft, striking him in the face. The burning phosphorus obliterated his nose and completely blinded him. Smoke filled the plane, obscuring the vision of the pilot. Sergeant Erwin realized that the aircraft and crew would be lost if the burning bomb remained in the plane. Without regard for his own safety, he picked it up and feeling his way, instinctively, crawled around the gun turret and headed for the copilot's window. He found the navigator's table obstructing his passage. Clasping the burning bomb between his forearm and body, he unleashed the spring lock and raised the table. Struggling through the narrow passage he stumbled forward into the smoke-filled pilot's compartment. Groping with his burning hands, he located the window and threw the bomb out. Completely aflame, he fell back upon the floor. The smoke cleared, the pilot, at 300 feet, pulled the plane out of its dive. Sergeant Erwin's gallantry and heroism above and beyond the call of duty saved the lives of his comrades.

Relation Name
associatedWith Alabama. State Council of Defense (1941-1946). corporateBody
associatedWith United States. Air Force corporateBody
memberOf United States. Army corporateBody
memberOf United States. Army Air Forces person
associatedWith United States. National Archives and Records Administration corporateBody
Place Name Admin Code Country
Adamsville AL US
Birmingham AL US
B-29 (Bomber)
Medal of Honor
Medal of Honor
Radio operators
World War II, 1939-1945
Airforce personnel
Radio operators


Birth 1921-05-08







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SNAC ID: 63573411